Archive for September, 2014

The Beneficence of Evil

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Is it really true, you ask, that evil—with all its attendant suffering and death—is nothing more than illusion? As you know very well, this is precisely what many spiritual teachers have claimed, both Eastern or Western. To use Medieval Christian language, evil is said to be a privatio boni, a privation or absence of the good—not in itself a real being, substance, or entity, but a “place” (to use the useless of such language) where Real Being could be but for some reason isn’t, even as a shadow is the absence of light. Ens et bonum convertuntur: Being and goodness, the Scholastics therefore add, are equivalent.

But having said that, I’m not sure we’ve done more than pushed “the problem of evil” back a step or two. So there’s really no evil, fine. But then why do I think there is? Isn’t my being deluded itself a problem? Why, and how, did I become so confused to begin with? Why can’t I see things as they truly are? At the end of the day, I think we’re obliged to admit that something is definitely wrong, if not with the universe at large then at least with ourselves. So we’re led back to your question, which at some point is everyone’s question: how could things have gone so wrong with, or within, a universe ostensibly created by a beneficent God?

Correct me if you think me mistaken, but based on what you and others have told me, Gurdjieff offers those of you in the Work essentially the same theodicy that Schuon offers his readers, though not surprisingly they express their underlying theological unanimity in radically different terms.

Schuon begins by noting that God can’t create something uncreated since this would be a contradiction in terms. Therefore, in bringing this world into being, He can’t help but make something other than, and thus less than, Himself. It follows that All-Possibility—one of Schuon’s names for God—must include even its own negation, a negation which can be realized or actualized, however, only “outside” itself, and therefore only within the context of the created order. Even though everything is ultimately rooted in God, as soon as it begins to be manifested or emanated, it “leaves God behind”, and with each degree of descending being, creatures are removed ever further from the only perfect Good.

Now when you and your confreres in the Work speak about the “merciless Heropass” and its unanticipated entropic effect ab initio on the “Sun Absolute”, and about the threat it thus poses to the primordial abode of “His Endlessness”, or again when you claim that each successive level in the Ray of Creation is subject to an increasing “number of laws” and is characterized by a corresponding increase in “density” and decrease in “frequency” of vibration, I seem to be hearing echoes of the Schuonian doctrine, though expressed of course in terms that are more dramatic and “scientific” and less metaphysical.

But here’s the point: In neither perspective is God able to do just anything He wants: He Himself operates within certain limits or boundaries—whether one regards these limits as voluntarily self-imposed or as aspects of His very essence or nature—and He’s therefore unable, or at the very least unwilling, simply to obliterate evil. But this is no reason for dismay or disbelief. On the contrary, whether willed or required, evil affords an irreplaceable opportunity for those whose “wish for being” (again I’m using your language) is sufficiently strong to undergird their “conscious labor” and “intentional suffering”—their persistent struggles to become what they are.

Irreducible Goodness

Monday, September 8th, 2014

I’m not sure I’d use the phrase “non-dual God”. God is God. Non-dualism has to do with our relationship with Him rather than with some sort of unusual conception of God.

The question I was raising in class is whether we are fundamentally or essentially something different from God, or whether on the contrary, at the deepest level of the human self, there is something “not other” than God—something (to use the language of the medieval Christian mystic Meister Eckhart) “uncreated and uncreatable”, a potency fully actualized only in the deified man, whom St Gregory Palamas said is “without origin” and “infinite”.

Rest assured: either way God is still “good”, though of course, whether we’re dualists or non-dualists, it’s important to keep in mind that His goodness cannot be reduced to what we think is good. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8). Remember, too, the ending of the Book of Job.